By John Jakimowicz, Safety Director, Madison Concrete Construction
Labor Day weekend signifies the unofficial end of summer, but that doesn’t mean the summer heat disappears! The hot (and humid) season in Greater Philadelphia typically lasts from around the end of May through mid-September, so don’t stop taking hot-weather precautions.
Excessive heat can cause illnesses and even death if not treated properly. It also exacerbates existing health problems like asthma, kidney failure and heart disease. Construction workers are among those at highest risk for getting heat illness, which makes it incredibility important for those in our industry to recognize when hot weather conditions are affecting workers’ health and safety.
Quick tips to beat the heat begin with what to do before the workday begins. Wear loose, lightweight and light-colored clothes (cotton or athletic-type material preferred) as well as sunscreen, a brimmed hard hat and tinted safety glasses if possible. Workers should stay hydrated and limit caffeine intake. Eating smaller meals and choosing fruit with high fiber and natural juices over high-protein foods also helps. Once on the jobsite, pace yourself. Avoid working in direct sunlight whenever possible and schedule frequent breaks in shady or air-conditioned areas.
Heat Safety Resources
It’s also important to know the signs of heat illness and what to do when somebody exhibits them. The General Building Contractors Association (GBCA) offers a Toolbox Talk Toolkit intended for use in safety huddles. The toolkit includes several Toolbox Talks and fact sheets covering topics like “Water, Rest, Shade” strategies, descriptions of heat illness symptoms, prevention and first aid, how to check the heat index and guidance for using the OSHA-NIOSH Heat Safety Tool App.
Recognizing the magnitude of their message, GBCA shared these heat safety resources not only with the construction industry, but also with the general public through campaigns aired on 97.5 The Fanatic and 6abc WPVI-TV Philadelphia. As a result, GBCA was named a winner in OSHA’s 2023 Beat the Heat National Contest under the Strongest Message category. After all, hot weather affects everybody!
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, heat stress killed 815 U.S. workers and seriously injured more than 70,000 workers from 1992 through 2017. OSHA warns that this is likely a vast underestimate. Heat is not always recognized as a cause of heat-induced injuries or deaths and can easily be misclassified because many of the symptoms overlap with other more common diagnoses.
Be safe out there! It’s easy to let hot days sneak up on you this time of year. Take the necessary precautions as summer weather lingers, starting with following the recommendations in GBCA’s Heat Hazard Toolbox Talks. And don’t forget to use these tips at home, as well—especially if you have outdoor activities planned for Labor Day weekend!